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Zimmer: RPO’s and FitzMagic Woes - Patriots Week 1 Recap

“I’m great. Everything is good. Trust.”

You know damn well who said this in his postgame press conference.

Cam Newton certainly left an impression in his Patriots debut. Not only did he walk into the stadium wearing this highlighter-yellow designer jacket (below), but he played a big role in helping the team take care of business in their 21-11 victory against the Miami Dolphins during Week 1.

I mean, seriously…who can pull this off but him?!

Every football fan knew that a Cam Newton offense would present itself as a far cry from the pocket-centered air raid made famous by Tom Brady’s days in the Pats uniform. Although there were certainly some exceptions in Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk over the last 20 years, the Patriots were never really known for having A+ running back talent. It was the Tom Brady show; he perennially had above-average receiving talent around him, and the confidence to air it out was evident through his New England days.

So, when the Pats came out of the gates with a slew of run-pass options (RPO’s), there’s no denying it was uncomfortable for us to watch. “Why isn’t he passing?! No, don’t run it! Stop scrambling! C’mon Cam!”

After a couple of big gains early in the game, we got a bit more comfortable. The Pats certainly rode the rushing game today, and Cam Newton even set a few records in that department. His 75 rushing yards were the most by a Pats quarterback since then-spring chicken Steve Grogan ran for 81 back in 1977. Newton completed 15 of his 19 passes for a total of 155 yards; he wasn’t intercepted at all, and was sacked twice.

Above all accolades today, this one is the truest testament to how much this Patriots offense will have to change with Cam Newton as its pioneer.

Only in New England can you tie a franchise record with 2 rushing TD’s from a quarterback!

Let’s take a look at some of the good and bad things we learned during the Pats’ week 1 win over the Dolphins.


The RPO looked fantastic in the first half. Cam Newton was born to run the RPO; he had it down to a science in Carolina, and it was no different in the first half of today’s debut. If Miami was playing a conservative man-to-man defense, the Pats pulled a lineman and sent him straight at the defender guarding the running back, making it a piece of cake for Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel to pick up some solid gains on either side of the hash. If Miami stacked the line, Cam made a quick audible and took it himself. Miami got a little bit more aggressive and started to figure it out in the second half, but it still was truly a work of art. Cam & his fleet of 4 running backs we saw today were on top of their game.

Newton was unstoppable in the red zone. My man Nick Rojas from Providence College Athletics office said it better than I did:

But, real talk…YES! Not that Tom wasn’t lockdown his entire career…but over the past few years, you’d hold your breath whenever the Pats got near the goal line. I loved the way Cam approached his first set of downs in the red zone, and he was rewarded with the first score of the game on a 4-yard touchdown run. He later ran it in from 11 yards in the 3rd quarter. He dripped confidence.

Cam has the schematic help to succeed in New England. Although today’s gameplan was loaded up with play-action passes and RPO’s, Cam still had the flexibility to air it out and throw a bullet every now and then. Julian Edelman (5/57) and N’Keal Harry (5/39) were clearly the favorites for Newton to link up with – while some say they won’t be weaponized enough for the Pats to compete this year, don’t give up on them yet. Edelman showed us he still has speed left in the tank, and hopefully Harry can be a reliable option as the days go on. Also, how about JJ Taylor?! The 5-foot-6 running back out of Arizona showed us that he’s both scrappy and speedy, which could be dangerous if he syncs up well with Newton in the coming weeks.

Defense. Paging all fantasy players…it’s okay to make the Patriots D/ST your 3rd or 4th-to-last pick in your draft 😉. The Pats have never failed to put out a competitive defense, but they had Ryan Fitzpatrick in the palm of their hands today. While the defensive line only came up with 1 sack, the secondary had a field day shutting down the Fins’ receiving corps; Stephon Gilmore, Adrian Phillips, and J.C. Jackson all picked off FitzMagic and returned them for a collective 20 yards. Add in 9 tackles for Phillips and 6 for Chase Winovich? You’ve got yourselves a hell of a defensive ballgame.


Sloppiness creeped in. Let’s get real with ourselves – this is a team that still has a lot to figure out. N’Keal Harry’s youth showed today when he lost his grip on the football at the 1 yard-line, and the pigskin went dribbling into the end zone for a turnover and a touchback. Mistakes happen – I’m well aware – but a score in that scenario could’ve put New England up 21-3; instead, Miami had their single-best drive, marched down the field, and cut the lead to 14-11. Although the Pats didn’t let that deter them, there cannot be any of those giveaways once the Pats start playing teams that will give their defense more problems.

What are we doing at kicker? Nick Folk missed a(nother) field goal from 45 out today; while it’s no chip shot, an elite team needs at least a GOOD kicker…not great, not above average…just good. So, seriously…is Nick Folk the best option we have? Is Justin Rohrwasser really not going to compete this year? I trust Bill with my life at this point, so I’ll defer to his best judgment; but I cannot stand Nick Folk. Ever since he hit this walk-off field goal against the Pats in 2013, I never really wanted to support him again (link is here if you need to humble yourself). Bottom line is that we really need to figure out what we’re doing here.

Offensive help would not kill us. I just made the point that Edelman and Harry are good enough for Cam, but besides the 4-man running back platoon, there isn’t really a lot to write home about for offensive weapons. I’m not really high on Ryan Izzo (1/25), and Damiere Byrd looks like he has some work to do to get consistent reps as a wideout. With Gunner Olszewski (WR) and rookie tight end Dalton Keene coming at some point, can the gaps be filled? On paper, the answer is no, but you’d be silly to bet against Bill Belichick…and Cam Newton.


New England heads west to take on Big Bad Russell Wilson, Superhuman DK Metcalf, and the Seattle Seahawks…who, mind you, just throttled the Atlanta Falcons on the road. Hopefully the Pats defense will be enough to slow down Russ & the boys; but more importantly, get Cam to break out the RPO’s and play actions, and the Pats might find themselves to a 2-0 start if they can execute.


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